EU Passes New Regulations For Voice AI And Digital Technology

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The European Union approved new rules to codify open markets and consumer rights in digital technology, including voice assistants and smart homes.

The Digital Services Package (DSP) passed two years after regulators began looking into how best to apply the rules to “gatekeeper” tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and their respective parent companies.

Gatekeeper Rules

The DSP combines the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA) built on initial reports of problems in fair competition in tech released last year. The DSP sets out rules for gatekeeper companies, meaning those with a certain level of revenue, platform userbase, and what the EU calls an “entrenched and durable position.” The DMA asserts that the biggest names in tech will need to offer a third-party option for voice assistants on their devices, potentially an issue for the respective smart speakers built by Amazon, Google, and Apple. They’ll also need to allow third-party payment systems, direct integration for third-party services, and allow developers to have access to hardware features that might be unique to the in-house devices, like Apple’s near-field communication tech and related services. The DMA also forbids default pre-installed software or giving their products preferential treatment.

Meanwhile, the DSA demands stricter regulation of platforms of illegal content. That might mean more careful and slower approval by Amazon of new Alexa skills. Companies violating the rules could end up with hefty fines; up to 6% of annual global turnover for DSA breaches and up to 10% when breaking DMA rules.

“The European Parliament has adopted a global first: Strong, ambitious regulation of online platforms. The Digital Services Act enables the protection of users’ rights online. The Digital Markets Act creates fair, open online markets,” EU anti-trust head and digital regulations leader Margrethe Vestager said. “Big platforms must refrain from promoting their interests, share their data with other businesses, and enable more app stores. Because with size comes responsibility – as a big platform, there are things you must and cannot do.”

Though voice AI was only a part of the regulatory framework, it’s a significant element in the EU tech ecosystem. According to the Commission, there were approximately 4.2 billion voice AIs in 2020, which is expected to double to 8.4 billion by 2024. Surveyed companies pointed to competitive barriers in the form of tech giants. Some companies said that their dominating presence and the exclusivity of their devices and respective voice assistants shut out rivals before they have a shot. In addition, there aren’t any standards for the tech, which makes the biggest companies the owners of default standards smaller companies may feel forced to work with, even as they have to build multiple standards when interoperability is limited.